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TYPE: Design Project

LOCATION: Ridgewood, Brooklyn

YEAR: 2022 - Current

COLLABORATORS:

Tami Banh, Ali Chen, Nia Starr

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In the mid-nineteenth century, Ridgewood Reservoir was built to supply Brooklyn, New York with fresh drinking water. Decommissioned in 1958, Ridgewood Reservoir is now 50 acres of naturalized area with overgrown vegetation, closed off to the public. The site includes three basins, one of them a freshwater pond and wetland today, while the other two are overgrown forest areas. With a thriving wetland ecosystem and vast forested areas,  it is home to a wide range of flora and fauna. The Reservoir in its current state is mostly inaccessible to the public, and the existing ecosystems risk being overtaken by invasive species including phragmites reed, mugwort, and Japanese knotweed, and bittersweet that are outcompeting the plants in the local ecosystem and negatively impacting the site’s biodiversity. Revealing a need for improved access to each basin for land management, the reservoir also offers huge potential for introducing safe public access, educational programming, and community building. Revitalization of this historic mono-functional hydrological infrastructure is an exciting  opportunity to address issues of environmental justice, ecological conservation, and historic preservation for the surrounding neighborhoods, creating a framework for environmental stewardship that ties human and non-human communities together in the era of the Anthropocene.

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The long-term goal of this project is to be implemented on the ground. We have engaged with NYC H2O, a local community organization overseeing the ecological stewardship of the Ridgewood Reservoir, by participating in volunteer efforts to clear invasive species under the guidance of NYCH2O leaders. Photographs of participation in this field work are captured below, where we assisted with the long-term work of cutting invasive phragmites which have overgrown in the reservoir's center basin. Roots of the phragmites reed must be cut 5-feet below the water to ensure they won’t grow back because regrowth of phragmites is a constant issue. Once phragmites have been cut, they are manually carried from the water’s edge to a discard pile. Because the site was designated as an environmentally protected Class I freshwater wetland by New York State in 2018, any landscape management and stewardship work must employ manual labor without the assistance of heavy industrial machinery.

 

We are also working in partnership with NYC H2O to provide a design study for the future of the reservoir, proposing a network of educational walking paths and architectural follies to immerse park-goers in the forested landscapes to uncover the historical, ecological evolution of a beautifully enigmatic but lost site. Our proposal also addresses the potential for the reservoir to become a live study in urban stewardship and responsible landscape management practices. We are excited to continue working with NYC H20 and to engage other community stakeholders to make this project a reality.

The site is conceived as a storytelling device to take visitors on a journey through history as they walk the path surrounding the reservoir. This narrative will highlight the compelling history of water use through the reservoir’s creation and subsequent decommissioning. Because each basin was emptied successively in time, the reservoir interior lends itself uniquely to a journey through forest succession as nature reclaims the three 3 basins of the site starting at different points in time. There are 8 unique ecological zones within the site, many of which are currently being overgrown by invasive species, and was designated as a critical environmental area by the CEA in 2018. The site also serves a green refuge for at least 156 species of birds, being on the path of the Atlantic Flyway, a major migration trail.

Our proposal for introducing public access to the reservoir weaves together the human history and ecological evolution of the site. A primary path, at 10’ wide, traverses all three basins and take visitors through the main narrative of the site. This path gently slopes to bring visitors from the existing causeway’s elevation to the bottom of the basin, and then gradually rise up again to the main grade (+0’) as one progresses to the end of the walk. Part of the proposed primary path leads through the center basin through existing basin pipe openings that were previously used to balance water levels in the historic reservoir. Introduction of a boat dock in the center basin provides access to the water for new recreational & educational opportunities, as well as allowing for more efficient phragmites management in the interim.

 

Branching out from the primary path, visitor can choose to take a journey deeper into the forested areas via  two secondary path loops that take visitors deeper into the West and East basins. These loops have a more dramatic elevation change while still remaining accessible. Introduced as a final phase along the secondary path in the outer basins, new architectural follies provide key moments of delight, discover and education, creating new encounters with the reservoir's ecologies such as an aviary, living museum, meditation hub. These follies offer diverse, novel ways to interact with the various ecological zones of the basin, ranging from from collective to more intimate experiences. Placed in the centers of the basins, visitors are encouraged to define new relationships with the ecological systems of the landscape,  defined through architectural view-framing, elevation changes, and the creation of shaded, communal, and meditative spaces.

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This project aims to develop an integrated landscape management strategy for controlling the non-native phragmites (Phragmites australis) growth in the central basin, recycling of plant material through collaborations with local businesses and craftspeople, and re-establishing native plants onsite. This illustrated study in stewardship would include the involvement of the local community in ecological management that could also inform a long-term creation of a regenerative, circular economy for the nearby East New York Industrial Business Zone. Materials research on alternative uses for invasive plants include products such as eco-planks, bricks or pellets for the new construction of the public access pathways and bridges for the inner basins of the reservoir.

Bio-material can also be used for the construction of the new proposed signage for the site. The new signage is intended to guide visitors on a narrative journey, taking the public through the history of water infrastructure surrounding the exterior edge of the reservoir, to a journey through forest succession on the interior of the reservoir, to an immersive walk through the lower interior basins of the reservoir's flora and fauna. By introducing much-needed wayfinding and signage into a site that currently has none, the project encourages the public to discover the lost ecologies of the site, educating about the role of ecological stewardship and human/non-human cohabitation in the age of the Anthropocene.

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